EU power priorities in the data centre

There is no doubt that we take for granted the ability to broadcast information over wired and wireless networks. Internet access and computer networking is now expected to work as fluidly as power to a light switch, or water from a tap.

This ‘utility’ expectation extends from the end user all the way back to data centres across the globe and across all the public and private infrastructure in between. Data does not flow and fibre does not light up without power. The demands of the modern data centre and the public’s insatiable demand for high-bandwidth content are creating new power challenges for operators, service providers and hardware manufacturers.

Data centres are growing in size and number in all markets, but particularly in the EU where existing and forthcoming legislation is having a profound impact on where data is stored. In-country data storage is creating substantial demand for additional data centre capacity across the EU. This also means there is substantial demand for additional energy to power these data centres and their contents, at a time when electricity networks are under their greatest strain. There are limits on how much power a data centre can physically pull down from the electricity network, in order to maintain continuity of supply for everyone on the same subnet. With power demands growing, that limit might not always be enough to fully satisfy the needs of the data centre.

To understand the energy needs of a modern data centre, take this example. Recently, IO Data Centres opened a new 10,000 sq ft facility in Slough, Berkshire. This is the company’s first dedicated facility in the UK, and one that can be densely packed with blade servers, storage arrays, networking infrastructure and interconnects, as well as cooling hardware to maximise use of the floor space. When fully populated, the Slough facility will draw down in the region of 10 megawatts from the UK national power grid. That is equivalent to the peak energy use of 10,000 homes or almost double the entire energy output generated by the Kielder Water hydroelectric power plant in Northumberland.

The peak power consumption of a data centre is a key consideration when architecting everything from the cabling to the interconnects. It is also a reason why deploying the latest network infrastructure technology is critical to ensure infrastructure is as energy-efficient as possible. Modern switches and data centre interconnect (DCI) technologies are now delivering substantial advances in power use, enabling them to not only deliver lower power consumption per port or per Gb, but also maintain and even exceed existing transmission ranges.

To put this into context, we’ll look at WaveLogic 3 Nano coherent optics as an example: WaveLogic 3 Nano transports data at super speeds of 100Gb/s, while consuming up to 70 per cent less power and taking up half the space of equivalent hardware from several years ago.

These advances in energy efficiency help meet data centre demands for less power consumption per port, per G or per square foot. They have challenged the networking and server industry to deliver a new generation of solutions. The result is hardware that will allow data centres to thrive within the limitations of available energy grid capacity, as the EU continues its transition away from coal-fired power and brings more alternative energy solutions on-line.

Power generating capability across Europe is actually falling, as a result of the decommissioning of coal-fired power stations. This move, intended to improve air quality, is removing electricity generating capability from Europe’s major nations at a rate faster than it can be replaced with nuclear, solar, biomass, wind and wave generating alternatives. For example, in the UK, generating capability has been steadily declining for over a decade. In 2014, data from the Department of Energy and Climate Change showed total electricity production stood at 359 terawatt-hours (TWh). This is down from a peak of 385 TWh in 2005. Add to this that energy prices have risen steadily from 2010. For data centres, this represents a major OpEx challenge to overcome.

Data centres are not the only energy consumers having a big impact on local and national power infrastructure load. Everything from the growing Internet of Things (IoT) to smart motorways are putting pressure on power grids. Going forward, new and revamped data centre facilities need to be carefully architected to make most efficient use of the available power. Alongside this, operators must ensure that high-energy functions such as cooling are as efficient and targeted as possible.

Most critically, communications infrastructure that will operate 24/7/365 should leverage the latest low-power technologies to ensure both running costs and operational range is as beneficial as possible to customers and business growth.

Joe Marsella, Chief Technology Officer for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Ciena

Image source: Shutterstock/wavebreakmedia